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The Top 50 Longest-Serving Governors of All Time

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One active governor tops the list, while another will crack the Top 10 by the end of his term; two current west coast governors will climb onto the list later this year

terrybranstad12.jpgWhen three former governors won back their old seats in the 2010 election cycle - Iowa Republican Terry Branstad, Oregon Democrat John Kitzhaber, and California Democrat Jerry Brown - it became clear there would be changes on the gubernatorial leader board for all-time service.

After approximately a week in office in 2011, Branstad took over the #1 spot from the late South Dakota Republican Bill Janklow, who had recorded 5,851 days under his belt in two stints from 1979-1987 and 1995-2003 (16 years, 7 days).

(Note: This study compiles data of governors of states in the post-U.S. Constitutional period, and hence does not count several years of service of New York's George Clinton, who governed for more than a decade of his 20+ years before statehood).

Branstad has not officially announced his candidacy for 2014, but has already amassed a record of Joe Dimaggio-like proportions that no one may ever break.

Through Tuesday, April 9th, Branstad has served 6,663 days in office in the Hawkeye State (18 years, 2 months, 29 days) which is 812 days and counting more than Janklow.

The Iowa GOPer previously served from 1983-1999 before unseating Democratic incumbent Chet Culver in the 2010 cycle.

Presuming Branstad completes his term on January 9, 2015, he will have compiled 7,303 days in office (19 years, 11 months, 29 days) or 24.5 percent longer than any governor in U.S. history.

Following Branstad and Janklow in third place is Alabama Democrat George Wallace, who served 5,848 days (16 years, 4 days) in three different stints: 1963-1967, 1971-1979, and 1983-1987.

Tied for fourth place at 5,840 days each (15 years, 11 months, 26 days) are Ohio Republican Jim Rhodes (1963-1971, 1975-1983) and North Carolina Democrat Jim Hunt (1977-1985, 1993-2001) - governors of states that limit service by two consecutive terms in office.

Rounding out the Top 10 are Louisiana Democrat Edwin Edwards (1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996; 5,784 days), Rhode Island Anti-Federalist Arthur Fenner (1790-1805; 5,642 days), Maryland Democrat Albert Ritchie (1920-1935; 5,475 days), New York Republican Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973; 5,466 days), and Wisconsin Republican Tommy Thompson (1987-2001; 5,142 days).

(A recent Smart Politics report found Fenner holds the all-time record by getting elected 16 times - all one year terms).

So does any governor have a chance of catching Branstad?

Despite making headlines in recent months with a new reality show and young wife, at age 85 it is unlikely Louisiana Democrat Edwin Edwards (#6 above) will come out of retirement.

That means the burden of catching Branstad falls squarely on the shoulders of fellow Republican Rick Perry of Texas.

Perry has quietly moved up to #19 on the all-time list during his fourth term at 4,493 days in office (12 years, 3 months, 20 days) since becoming governor on December 21, 2000.

When Perry completes his term in January 2015 he will just crack the Top 10 at 5,144 days served, or two days longer than former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson who currently holds the #10 slot.

If Branstad retires, Perry would still need to serve another 2,159 days to tie his record.

That means the former presidential candidate would need to not only win the 2014 election but also the 2018 cycle and serve through 2020.

As for the aforementioned Democrats Kitzhaber and Brown, each are currently sitting just shy of the Top 50 tied in 53rd place at 3,754 days.

The duo Kitzhaber will crack the Top 50 in July of this year, passing Montana Democrat Joseph Toole (1889-1893, 1901-1908; 3,793 days), Arkansas Republican Mike Huckabee (1996-2007; 3,832 days), and Colorado Republican John Love (1963-1973; 3,843 days) along the way.

Overall, 58 governors in U.S. history have served at least 10 years (3,652 days) in office.

New York has the most governors of those serving at least 10 years with four: Nelson Rockefeller at #9 and Thomas Dewey, Mario Cuomo, and George Pataki tied for #24.

Arkansas (Orval Faubus #31, Bill Clinton #40, Mike Huckabee #51), Colorado (Richard Lamb #31, Roy Romer #31, John Love #50), Michigan (William Milliken #15, Soapy Williams #24, John Engler #24), and Tennessee (William Carroll #20, John Sevier #44, Frank Clement #57) each have three governors with at least 10 years of service.

Here is how the most experienced governors break down by century:

# Serving in the 18th to 19th Centuries: 5
# Serving in the 19th Century: 5
# Serving in the 19th to 20th Centuries: 1
# Serving in the 20th Century: 35
# Serving in the 20th to 21st Centuries: 11
# Serving in the 21st Century: 1

The Top 50 (+8) Longest Serving Governors in U.S. History

Rank
State
Governor
Party
Years
Service
Days
1
IA
Terry Branstad*
Republican
1983-1999, 2011-
18 yrs, 2 mos, 29 days
6,663
2
SD
William Janklow
Republican
1979-1987, 1995-2003
16 yrs, 0 mos, 7 days
5,851
3
AL
George Wallace
Democrat
1963-1967, 1971-1979, 1983-1987
16 yrs, 0 mos, 4 days
5,848
4
OH
Jim Rhodes
Republican
1963-1971, 1975-1983
15 yrs, 11 mos, 26 days
5,840
4
NC
Jim Hunt
Democrat
1977-1985, 1993-2001
15 yrs, 11 mos, 26 days
5,840
6
LA
Edwin Edwards
Democrat
1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996
15 yrs, 10 mos, 2 days
5,784
7
RI
Arthur Fenner
Anti-Federalist
1790-1805
15 yrs, 5 mos, 11 days
5,642
8
MD
Albert Ritchie
Democrat
1920-1935
14 yrs, 11 mos, 27 days
5,475
9
NY
Nelson Rockefeller
Republican
1959-1973
14 yrs, 11 mos, 18 days
5,466
10
WI
Tommy Thompson
Republican
1987-2001
14 yrs, 0 mos, 28 days
5,142
11
ID
Cecil Andrus
Democrat
1971-1977, 1987-1995
14 yrs, 0 mos, 20 days
5,133
12
NH
John Gilman
Federalist
1794-1805, 1813-1816
14 yrs, 0 mos, 6 days
5,119
13
IL
James Thompson
Republican
1977-1991
14 yrs, 0 mos, 5 days
5,118
14
IA
Robert Ray
Republican
1969-1983
13 yrs, 11 mos, 30 days
5,112
15
MI
William Milliken
Republican
1969-1983
13 yrs, 11 mos, 11 days
5,093
16
AZ
George Hunt
Democrat
1911-1919, 1923-1929, 1931-1933
13 yrs, 11 mos, 8 days
5,090
17
RI
James Fenner
Jeff-Rep; Jack-Dem, Law & Order
1807-1811, 1824-1831, 1843-1845
12 yrs, 11 mos, 31 days
4,749
18
NJ
Isaac Williamson
Jeffersonian Republican
1817-1829
12 yrs, 8 mos, 25 days
4,650
19
TX
Rick Perry*
Republican
2000-
12 yrs, 3 mos, 20 days
4,493
20
TN
William Carroll
Jeffersonian-Republican; Democrat
1821-1827, 1829-1835
12 yrs, 0 mos, 13 days
4,395
21
WV
Arch Moore
Democrat
1969-1977, 1985-1989
12 yrs, 0 mos, 8 days
4,391
22
NM
Bruce King
Democrat
1971-1975, 1979-1983, 1991-1995
12 yrs, 0 mos, 3 days
4,386
23
WA
Daniel Evans
Republican
1965-1977
12 yrs, 0 mos, 2 days
4,385
24
MA
Michael Dukakis
Democrat
1975-1979, 1983-1991
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
MI
Soapy Williams
Democrat
1949-1961
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
MI
John Engler
Republican
1991-2003
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
NY
Thomas Dewey
Republican
1943-1955
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
NY
Mario Cuomo
Democrat
1983-1995
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
NY
George Pataki
Republican
1995-2007
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
24
WA
Arthur Langlie
Republican
1941-1945, 1949-1957
12 yrs, 0 mos, 1 day
4,384
31
AR
Orval Faubus
Democrat
1955-1967
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
CO
Richard Lamb
Democrat
1975-1987
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
CO
Roy Romer
Democrat
1987-1999
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
HI
John Burns
Democrat
1962-1974
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
HI
George Ariyoshi
Democrat
1974-1986
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
ID
Robert Smylie
Republican
1955-1967
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
UT
Cal Rampton
Democrat
1965-1977
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
31
WY
Edgar Herschler
Democrat
1975-1987
12 yrs, 0 mos, 0 days
4,383
39
ND
William Guy
Democrat
1961-1973
11 yrs, 11 mos, 30 days
4,382
40
AR
Bill Clinton
Democrat
1979-1981, 1983-1992
11 yrs, 11 mos, 13 days
4,366
41
AK
William Egan
Democrat
1959-1966, 1970-1974
11 yrs, 10 mos, 30 days
4,353
42
MS
John Stone
Democrat
1876-1882, 1890-1896
11 yrs, 10 mos, 9 days
4,332
43
CT
Jonathan Trumball, Jr
Federalist
1797-1809
11 yrs, 8 mos, 7 days
4,267
44
TN
John Sevier
Jeffersonian-Republican
1796-1801, 1803-1809
11 yrs, 6 mos, 3 days
4,193
45
VT
Howard Dean
Democrat
1991-2003
11 yrs, 4 mos, 27 days
4,167
46
MA
Caleb Strong
Federalist
1800-1807, 1812-1816
10 yrs, 11 mos, 26 days
4,012
47
VT
Isaac Tichenor
Federalist
1797-1807, 1808-1809
10 yrs, 11 mos, 25 days
4,011
48
UT
Michael Leavitt
Republican
1993-2003
10 yrs, 10 mos, 2 days
3,958
49
CA
Earl Warren
Republican
1943-1953
10 yrs, 9 mos, 2 days
3,928
50
CO
John Love
Republican
1963-1973
10 yrs, 6 mos, 9 days
3,843
51
AR
Mike Huckabee
Republican
1996-2007
10 yrs, 5 mos, 27 days
3,832
52
MT
Joseph Toole
Democrat
1889-1893, 1901-1908
10 yrs, 4 mos, 21 days
3,793
53
OR
John Kitzhaber*
Democrat
1995-2003; 2011-
10 yrs, 3 mos, 11 days
3,754
53
CA
Jerry Brown*
Democrat
1975-1983; 2011-
10 yrs, 3 mos, 11 days
3,754
55
MN
Rudy Perpich
DFL
1976-1979, 1983-1991
10 yrs, 0 mos, 12 days
3,664
56
CT
William O'Neill
Democrat
1980-1991
10 yrs, 0 mos, 10 days
3,662
57
TN
Frank Clement
Democrat
1953-1959, 1963-1967
10 yrs, 0 mos, 7 days
3,659
58
NV
Bob Miller
Democrat
1989-1999
10 yrs, 0 mos, 2 days
3,654
* Denotes a governor still in office. Note: Excludes pre-U.S. Constitutional gubernatorial service as well as gubernatorial service in U.S. territories. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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6 Comments


  • I thought George Clinton was the longest serving Governor in U.S. History--not Branstad. On July 9 1777, New York elects Brigadier General George Clinton as the first governor of the independent state of New York. Clinton would go on to become New York's longest-serving governor, as well as the longest-serving governor in the United States, holding the post until 1795, and again from 1801 to 1804. In 1805, he was elected vice president of the United States, a position he held under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, until his death in 1812

  • As noted at the beginning of the report and in the table, this report only examines governors of states from the post U.S. Constitutional period:

    "Note: This study compiles data of governors of states in the post-U.S. Constitutional period, and hence does not count several years of service of New York's George Clinton, who governed for more than a decade of his 20+ years before statehood."

  • I feel like you could add 2 more years for wallace. In alabama at the time you could not secede yourself, he got his wife to run and she was "Governor" 1967 until her death in 1968

  • Peter Coleman served twelve years as governor of American Samoa spanning 1956 to 1993--the only person to serve as U.S. governor in 5 different decades

  • I did not know that about Lurleen Wallace (George Wallace's wife) becoming governor herself. Thanks for the information.

  • Peter Coleman actually served 15 years 7 months as governor of American Samoa and would be number seven on this chart if the territories were included. He is the only person ever from a state or a territory, pre- or post-Constitution, whose service spanned five decades.

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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